I first read this a while ago, and found it a stunning novel: this audio book read by Kenneth Branagh is really very good indeed - especially at the e...moreI first read this a while ago, and found it a stunning novel: this audio book read by Kenneth Branagh is really very good indeed - especially at the end where Meursault loses his equanimity and shouts at that pestering priest, who - for his own piece of mind - wants Meursalt to say that he repents, but Meursault refuses to lie as he refuses throughout the novel. A man who refuses to be what society thinks he should be and will not lie to make others feel comfortable, is a stranger indeed, for human beings cannot bear very much reality, eh? (less)
I bought Imago last year at the Melbourne Writers Festival because the blurb intrigued me so much. I had never heard of the psychoanalytical use of th...moreI bought Imago last year at the Melbourne Writers Festival because the blurb intrigued me so much. I had never heard of the psychoanalytical use of the term ‘imago’ but it sounded interesting.
imago 1. the final and fully developed stage of an insect after all metamorphoses e.g. a butterfly or beetle. 2. Psychoanal. an idealised concept of a loved one formed in childhood and retained uncorrected in adult life…. Imago is a story of love and obsession, of seduction and transformations. The threading together of skins, of bodies. It’s a story of metamorphosis, taking and eating, larvae and pupae, the risks of stagnation. Possibilities of death.
That sounds like a lot to pack into a debut novel, but the juxtaposition of metamorphosis and stagnation offers interesting possibilities for fiction. I had enjoyed Brian Castro’s The Bath Fugues which played with the triple meaning of fugue (a psychiatric state, a musical term and C19th wanderers.) (See my review). I thought Imago would be fascinating, and it was.
Molly Rose is an English girl who marries her idea of a husband only to find him remote, impotent and socially inept. When she migrates from England, she leaves behind a mother who smothers her, only to form an obsessive friendship with her neighbour who is a cross between a mother-substitute and a lesbian lover. Marj’s husband Kevin works away from home a lot, as does Molly’s husband Jimmy, leaving the women to spend a great deal of time with each other allowing their relationship to morph into something else.
It’s a sensual book. There is a lot about fat and flesh, fabrics and flowers. Marj cooks and shares robust meals and delicate baked specialties. Canberra is resolutely suburban, baking in the summer heat, and Molly revels in shedding the restrictive clothing of her past.
I found Amok to be an intriguing story that offers much to think about. It’s the story of a doctor facing an existential crisis in what was, when Zwei...moreI found Amok to be an intriguing story that offers much to think about. It’s the story of a doctor facing an existential crisis in what was, when Zweig wrote this story in 1922, the Dutch East Indies. A psychological study that shows the character confronted by a moral dilemma that becomes an irrational compulsion which destroys him, the novella is framed as a narrative within a narrative. A stranger meets this distraught doctor hiding himself away from everyone as their ship returns to Europe, and the doctor unburdens himself to the stranger in the dark of the night, even though, as the reader eventually learns, there is some risk to him in doing so.
The voice in the dark hesitated again. ‘I would like to ask you something … that’s to say, I’d like to tell you something. Oh, I know, I know very well how absurd it is to turn to the first man I meet, but … I’m … I’m in a terrible mental condition, I have reached a point where I absolutely must talk to someone, or it will be the end of me … You’ll understand that when I … well. if I tell you … I mean, I know you can’t help me, but this silence is almost making me ill, and a sick man always looks ridiculous to others.’ (p. 21)
Tension lingers throughout the story from the opening paragraph, in which the unnamed stranger tells us that
In March 1912 a strange accident occurred in Naples harbour during the unloading of a large ocean-going liner which was reported at length by the newspapers, although in extremely fanciful terms. Although I was a passenger on the Oceania, I did not myself witness this strange incident – nor did any of the others – since it happened while coal was being taken on board and cargo unloaded, and to escape the noise we had all gone ashore to pass the time in coffee-houses or theatres. It is my personal opinion, however, that a number of conjectures which I did not voice publicly at the time provide the true explanation of that sensational event, and I think that, at a distance of some years, I may now be permitted to give an account of a conversation I had in confidence immediately before the curious episode. (p.11)
So as we read, there is not only the confessional conversation between the doctor and the stranger to consider, but also our curiosity about what this odd incident might be - which of course is not revealed until the end of the novella. There’s also the distancing effect of the first-person narrator (the stranger) narrating another character’s first-person narrative, and we see that he too – at a distance of some years – feels the need to unburden himself of this secret that he hasn’t ‘voiced publicly’. The urge to confess is powerful indeed.
The publisher’s blurb calls Stephen Orr’s new novel, One Boy Missing ‘literary crime’ but this novel is more about the search for hope than for a solu...moreThe publisher’s blurb calls Stephen Orr’s new novel, One Boy Missing ‘literary crime’ but this novel is more about the search for hope than for a solution to a crime.
Detective Bart Moy returns to a dreary country town to look after his cantankerous old father, and finds himself trying to solve a case that picks open the barely-healed wound of losing his own child. It is not until late in the novel that we learn how this happens so I won’t spoil things by explaining, except to say that Bart is really only going through the motions, plodding through the day’s work, absorbing the routine contempt that so many people dish out to police, and tolerating the nagging that he gets from his superior officer in the city.
And then there is a chilling report of a child being dragged into the boot of a car and abducted. What makes this case odd is that there are no parents frantic with worry about him. It’s the local butcher who sees the abduction, and no one else. Days go by and there are no reports of missing children. It begins to look as if it never happened. But then the child is found, traumatised and silent. No one knows his name or identity. It becomes Bart’s job to try to get this child talking, to find out what’s happened. But whereas the standard tropes of a crime novel involve a drip feed of clues for the reader to try to assemble, the silence of this damaged child means that the only way that events can be pieced together is for the boy to tell his story including the parts he is at pains to conceal. No amount of reader cunning could lead to a whodunit moment; it’s not the author’s intent.
Phew... 529 pages and most of it irritated me a lot. The trouble is that there are some good ideas in it, but one has to wade through a lot of rot to g...morePhew... 529 pages and most of it irritated me a lot. The trouble is that there are some good ideas in it, but one has to wade through a lot of rot to get there...(less)
It’s interesting to be writing a review of Let Me Sing You Gentle Songs straight after writing about Toni Morrison’s Sula. In one way, it’s not a fair...moreIt’s interesting to be writing a review of Let Me Sing You Gentle Songs straight after writing about Toni Morrison’s Sula. In one way, it’s not a fair comparison, Morrison is a Nobel Prize winning author with numerous novels and other writing to her credit during her long career, and Olsson has only two published novels so far, and (I assume, since she hails from Sweden) she’s writing in English as Another Language. But Sula is an early work, as Olsson’s is, and the contrast between the vivid anger of Morrison’s preoccupations and Olsson’s serenity of tone is quite extraordinary.
I think one needs to be in a certain sort of mood for both such books: responsive to an intensely political PoV in the case of Sula, and prepared to suspend belief about the characterisation and actions of the central character; while fans of sincere memoirs of life’s hardships will like Let Me Sing You Gentle Songs; those of us with less sentimental worldviews may be less keen.
Let Me Sing You Gentle Songs is Linda Olssen’s first book and I am pleased that I read her second before this because I might not have ventured further. I enjoyed The Kindness of Your Nature much more (see my review) but Let Me Sing You Gentle Songs was apparently a best-seller in New Zealand, where Swedish-born Olsson now lives. The rights have been sold around the world. So once again, Lisa at ANZ LitLovers is out of step with popular and critical opinion.
The novel is a meditation on love and loss, set in post-war coastal New South Wales in the small town of Thirroul. The beauty of the environment is a...moreThe novel is a meditation on love and loss, set in post-war coastal New South Wales in the small town of Thirroul. The beauty of the environment is a constant solace, but it is not impervious to the war and its aftermath. It’s not just the characters of Roy McKinnon and the doctor Frank Draper who bring their trauma home with them; there is also the new general awareness of nuclear warfare and the Cold War, something that my parents’ generation had to come to terms with …
Annika Lachlan’s husband Mac has ‘sat out the war’ in a protected occupation but he doesn’t live long enough to realise the irony of his belief that he could stay home and protect his family because the war was ‘nothing to do with us’. In its own quiet, reflective way, this novel interrogates this point-of-view. Isolationism public and private was, in the still raw aftermath of the slaughter in the meaningless ‘war to end all wars’, a not uncommon perspective. But while the battles of WW2 are far away, Mac cannot prevent the war coming home to Thirroul; and as David Malouf wrote so powerfully in his book On Experience awareness of atrocity cannot be un-known. Hay’s characters must somehow accommodate a new consciousness into the peace and beauty of their village.
Monika Pant is an author from India who is writing about a theme that interests me: what it’s like to be living through India’s tumultuous emergence i...moreMonika Pant is an author from India who is writing about a theme that interests me: what it’s like to be living through India’s tumultuous emergence into the modern economy. And she’s one of the few female Indian authors that I’ve come across, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to read this book …
Let me say upfront that the cover does the book no favours. Its naff blonde-in-a-miniskirt image has nothing to do with the content of the book, it’s positively misleading. If we must have the ubiquitous back-view-of-the-female image, then the female of this book should have that long, lustrous black hair that Indian girls are so lucky to have. This is lazy cover design, one of my pet hates.
If the idea of this generic design is to attract the international market, then IMO the publisher would do better to work on improving the book’s distribution outside India. Monika contacted me to offer me a review copy of her book – a smart initiative - but it proved to be more difficult than either of us realised for me to get my hands on it. It is possible now to get the book from Amazon but it’s absurdly expensive, pricing which is not fair and not realistic for an author trying to break into the international market. If you are interested in Caught in Two Winds the best thing to do is to keep an eye on this link from Monika’s blog where there is an expanding list of places that the novel can be bought.
*mutter, mutter* I do not understand why it has to be so difficult to source books from India. The same thing happened trying to get hold of Indian titles shortlisted for the (now sadly defunct) Man Asian Lit Prize. Visiting the Penguin India website is an exercise in profound frustration because there are so many enticing books there that are only available in India…
I’m cross about this because although Caught in Two Winds has some first-novel flaws, it sustained my interest throughout, and Monika is an author with potential. (One of her short stories was long-listed in the 2013 Commonwealth Short Story Prize). Caught in Two Winds is the story of young people falling into the traps of modernity when they transition from the traditions and slow pace of Lucknow to the snazzy, snap-it-up metro of Mumbai. It’s a theme that Balzac was always writing about: young people from the provinces led astray by wicked Paris. Tolstoy wrote about the army corrupting nice young men. It was a favourite theme for Dickens too, look how quickly Pip’s values are distorted by big, bad London. An old theme made new in this book, and it’s a theme that’s highly relevant in India as the vulnerable young flock to where the action is.
Shayoni, barely out of her teens, and her brother Sushant, who’s only eleven, are alone together in Mumbai. This inversion of the stereotypical extended Indian family comes about because Shayoni’s mother has just died, and her father’s an alcoholic. Ignoring the counsels of her interfering grandmother, Shayoni flounces off with her little brother, convinced that she can do a better job of bringing him up than her useless father can. Shayoni is a convincing mixture of adolescent arrogance, doubt, competence, ambition and folly. Sushant is an earnest, hard-working boy who wants to please his sister, but her naïve strategy of leaving him alone to deal with problems at school is a recipe for disaster.
Well, firstly, it feels odd to rate this 4 stars as if I 'liked' it. Reading a slave narrative is not something to 'like'; it is more a matter of feel...moreWell, firstly, it feels odd to rate this 4 stars as if I 'liked' it. Reading a slave narrative is not something to 'like'; it is more a matter of feeling that reading this book is essential.
As everyone knows, Twelve Years a Slave has been made into a rather high profile film with countless reviews (e.g. The Guardian; or Margaret and David At the Movies) so there is not much can be said about the book without spoiling the film. The bare bones are enough: it’s the true story of Solomon Northup who was born free but kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841 when he was 30. He endured 12 brutal years before he was rescued and returned to his wife and children.
As it says in one of the reviews I read, it isn’t possible to depict the real horror of slavery on screen. The 2013 film is described as ‘stark, visceral and unrelenting’ but I can’t imagine how it could possibly have the draining effect of reading Northup’s personal testimony. The narrative is ‘as told to and edited by David Wilson’ who recorded it at the time as part of the campaign to abolish slavery: it is written in calm, considered prose which makes it all the more harrowing.
All the people named in Twelve Years a Slave are memorable, but two stand out for me: Patsey, the sweet, simple girl who attracts the attention of the slave owner Epps, and as a consequence, the brutal jealousy of his wife; and Eliza, a mother parted from her children Randall and Emily, never to see them again:
I read very little YA fiction but every now and again a book comes my way that takes my interest. The reissue of award-winning The Simple Gift by Stev...moreI read very little YA fiction but every now and again a book comes my way that takes my interest. The reissue of award-winning The Simple Gift by Steven Herrick interested me because I’d read Do-Wrong Ron by the same author to my Year 5 & 6 students. They loved it, and I admired the free verse form, perfect for reading aloud.
Well, The Simple Gift isn’t going to be okay for primary school students because it’s the coming-of-age story of homeless 16-year-old Billy who runs away to avoid an abusive father, and it’s got some language that we don’t use at school, not to mention some … um … adolescent activity that we prefer to keep …um … theoretical for primary aged students –